Many government documents are designated “public” but are not easily available to the public. MassINC, publisher of CommonWealth magazine, has launched an initiative, Full Disclosure, to publish on its Web site a variety of state and local government records in order to make it easier for the public to see them.

The first set of documents it is publishing are the statements of financial interest filed by various state and county officials. These are forms by which officials are required to disclose outside financial interests such as outside income, business ownership, property ownership and investments.

MassINC has posted more than 250 of these for members of the state legislature, constitutional officers, cabinet members, Supreme Judicial Court justices, county sheriffs, district attorneys, registers of deeds, various appointed officials, and members of the Governor’s Council.

For now, the only way to access these is to download this spreadsheet and click on the link for the name of each official, which opens a PDF of the financial statement. MassINC says it will be launching a searchable database for these documents in the coming months and also adding many more documents.

I wrote in March 2005 about the public-records search engine Pretrieve. A major appeal of the site was that it was free. Go to Pretrieve today and the front page still describes the service as free — even highlighting the word free in red type — but it lies. Enter a query and you are rerouted to the paid search service Intelius, where it will cost you a minimum of $7.95 to see results. As far as I can tell, this change just took place within the past couple weeks. Sorry to see the demise of this useful free resource.